“…because when you move away, when you turn your life into a journey filled with uncertainty, you grow up in unexpected ways.”
About the place
It was a good place for getting lost in, a city so full of life and so welcoming. It was the perfect place to discover–not only the unknown, but what I thought I knew and was wrong about. It was the place that caught me off guard and gave me chance after chance. It’s the city of kind people, laughter, and tangled feelings–and somehow, it also became the place of truth, where I was meant to understand many things, and find myself.
It became the setting of my little tug of war between letting go and holding on; where I got lost so many times, but always managed to find my way back. That’s what Heidelberg meant to me. It was proof that I could always find my way back and around.
About Living, Loving, then Leaving
I was just looking through some photos from the time I studied in Germany; it’s so incredibly hard to believe that it’s almost 4 years since I came back. When I think about everything that has happened since then, in some way it becomes believable, nevertheless I find myself revisiting the experiences that have altogether shaped me to being the person I am today, and find myself thinking it wasn’t so long ago. Time is funny like that, you’re so busy living that you become unconscious of its passing, until you stop and think about it.
I have gone to so many other countries since I came back from Germany 4 years ago, I’ve even gone back to Berlin, but the effect a trip has on you is different every single time. It has to do with–I like to believe– the sentiment with which you leave.
To paint a clearer picture, when I left Heidelberg I didn’t want to come back home, not because I dislike my home, because I really don’t. I actually LOVE it, but because leaving meant turning the page. And I don’t think I was quite ready to do so. During the 4 months I got to spend there I learned and grew so much, I discovered so many new things about myself, and I realized how independent I could be.
At the beginning of my adventure I got lost so many times, found myself homesick for my house, family, and food. But after the two-week milestone, it was all rainbows and butterflies. I knew my way around, and was settled in a new lifestyle I happened to adore.
The weird thing is that this “lifestyle” had everything to do with me, and maybe nothing to do with the place. Or maybe it was the combination of both that made me different. Back home I was quiet with strangers, and a lot more shy and reserved. I was used to having a strict routine and I liked it. I enjoyed spending some Friday nights ordering take out and watching TV before going to bed early. When I was there, I never did that. I explored, got lost, talked to strangers, made friends out of casualties, traveled…and my inner adventurer was discovered.
Little by little I learned to speak german, and l got to practice at home with the german family I lived with, and out in the street with strangers. I can’t even begin to explain how awesome it is to be understood in a language I knew nothing about the day I arrived.
Some random memories I take from living in Heidelberg…
I remember this man who worked in the pizzeria located between the tram station and my house. Every now and then, I stopped by and bought myself a pizza before I headed home. I regularly ordered it to go, but it was always a Hawaiian Pizza with extra pineapple. After my third visit to his pizzeria, he recognized me as the girl who came for her Hawaiian Pizza, and had it already there for me. Every time, meanwhile they packed my pizza, he and I chatted in german, and whenever I found myself without the right words to say, he would step in and help me out.
This one other time, Peter, a 57 year-old man who owned the house we lived in together with Cristina, his wife, got excited over dinner and began telling us (my friend and I) his World War 2 stories and how they made him feel because he knew my friend and I–together with our group–were visiting Dachau that weekend. Everything he said to us, and the way he told his stories gave me goose bumps. When you live somewhere, specially if you get close to the people who live there, you understand many things about them, and their culture; details that bring you closer to them and their country in ways you never expected.
For reasons like these and many more, I didn’t want to come back home. I didn’t want to give up that life of moving around on my own; taking trains, buses, trams, and cabs every day, and sometimes boats or airplanes on the weekends. I didn’t want to distance myself from what I had just discovered and fallen in love with. Living in Germany had too, broadened my perspective, allowing me to appreciate and understand the world in ways that I couldn’t living elsewhere.
Evidently, after the fourth month was over, so was my german lifestyle and I had to fly back home. I must confess to have several times, felt the intense need to be and talk with my mother and family. So at times I really felt like I wanted to return, but as I write this now, I understand that choosing between places is one of the hardest things to do when you’re heart’s in more than one country. Mexico represented my home in every way, but after 4 months full of life and lessons, so did Germany.
So between wanting to go back and wishing to stay, the time to say goodbye came and ready or not, convinced or unsure, I packed my bags, said my goodbyes, and left.
Once you live somewhere, grow and learn there, leaving becomes unimaginably difficult. You think it’ll be easy, but it’s a whole lot of life that’ll change–probably permanently. The ways of living vary from place to place and one must adapt where one is bound to be. That’s how it works.
You get used to that special coffee shop you discovered, that one where the owner and everyone there happens to know you. You get used to the commute to class; that ideal 30-minute train ride for music and thoughts, or delve into the pages of your favourite book. You get used to walking around the streets you know well, and saluting the people who always coincided with your schedules. You get used to everything, and leaving means it never happening again–at least not in the same circumstances.
Boarding the transatlantic plane that summer was an important step for me because I turned the page, and as it eventually happened, I understood it was time for me to do so. I realised that Heidelberg would still be there even though I wasn’t; with the people, restaurants, shops, river, and all the other places that turned it into a home to me.
So it is with a heavy heart that after 4 years of being back, I write about a city like Heidelberg. I hope one day to return, and I hope to find the same beauty and spark with which it always used to shine. I know that for a place like this, not even returning will make me stop missing it. It shook my roots, my certainties and my fears; it made me feel at home in a new city, and for this, it’ll always be my home far away from home.
For more about Heidelberg take a look at my first post!
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